Keidel: Steve Spagnuolo Has Chance To Finish 'Fairytale Season'

Former Giants Coach Returns To Super Bowl With Chiefs

Jason Keidel
January 30, 2020 - 11:52 am

Bill Belichick has long been credited as the mastermind behind the Giants' win in Super Bowl XXV, as the savant whose defensive blueprint baffled Jim Kelly and held the nuclear K-Gun offense to just 19 points. Belichick may even wear the twin crowns as the best head coach and defensive coordinator in NFL history. 

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But you could argue his 1990 masterpiece wasn't even the best Super Bowl effort in Giants history. 

That title may belong to Steve Spagnuolo, the wizard behind the Giants defense that thwarted an even better team. Indeed, the 2007 Patriots were 18-0 entering Super Bowl XLII, 60 minutes from planting their flag as the pro football team nonpareil. They would have had the flawless record and more wins than the 17-0 Dolphins in 1972. 

Yet it was the Giants' defense in general - and rabid pass rush in particular - that kept Tom Brady off script and the offense off balance just long enough to slip past the Pats 17-14. All the archives seem to feature Eli Manning's muscular scramble, rainbow pass, and miracle catch by David Tyree as the singular reason the Giants shocked the Patriots. But Spagnuolo, Strahan, and the relentless defense laid the groundwork. 

Spagnuolo's career after that game has taken some turbulent turns, including a few failures as a head coach. But when he was out of football in 2018 it was an old friend, Andy Reid, who reached out and offered Spagnuolo a shot at his most comfortable spot - defensive coordinator. So perhaps its not a coincidence that the Kansas City Chiefs - a team derided for its defense last year when it fell a few plays short of the Super Bowl - have climbed that last rung this year and are favored to topple the San Francisco 49ers in this year's Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo congratulates Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs after a fourth quarter sack against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri
David Eulitt/Getty Images

While the Chiefs are universally feared for their pyrotechnic offense, with bionic quarterback Patrick Mahomes chucking darts at Travis Kelce, Treek Hill, and a small army of speedsters, they were actually more potent last season, when Mahomes was voted NFL MVP. But between the addition of edge rusher Frank Clark, safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Spagnuolo, the Chiefs are tangibly better on defense this season. The Chiefs allowed 421 total points in 2018; they've allowed just 308 points in 2019. The difference is a full touchdown (7.06 points) per game.

The two Super Bowl teams could not be any different geographically, physically or philosophically. The 49ers are a rough and tumble, running team, like the U.S. Army in cleats. Meanwhile the Chiefs are the U.S. Air Force, striking fast, often, and with uncanny precision. And the differences are also italicized by their coaches.  

While 49ers demonstrative defensive coordinator Robert Saleh - with his bald head and big arms - spends his throaty Sundays prowling and shouting from the sideline as through he were prepping for a cage fight, Spagnuolo takes a more muted approach to gameday. Both approaches are proven, but if experience is a main metric in Super Bowl LIV then Spags - his nickname since his days with the Giants - has the edge. 

It should be easy for Giants devotees to root for Spagnuolo, the architect behind their greatest achievement, and perhaps biggest upset in Super Bowl history. And his former players are showing the love. Among the Big Blue luminaries to text, call, and congratulate Spags are Michael Strahan, Antonio Pierce, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora, each a key cog in that magical machine from 2007 (according to a piece from Even Tom Coughlin typed a congratulatory text to his former assistant. 

New York Giants interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo during warm up before game against Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Spagnuolo was a rookie coordinator for Big Blue back then. No doubt he figured he'd return to the big game many times. Now. at 60, with a 12-year bottleneck between his first and second trip to the Super Bowl - and his Chiefs waiting 50 years for their second shot  - Spagnuolo realizes how precious these moments are. 

And while the world sees red on Sunday, Giants fans appreciate the Big Blue bookend to the story of Steve Spagnuolo, who once thwarted a perfect season, and now has a chance to finish a fairytale season. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel